The leader of the Group

Just suppose you are able to make an interview with shaykh Junayd (d. 910 C.E.) of Baghdad. What would you ask him? Perhaps some of your questions are similar to the ones as given below:

Q: Can you tell us something about your youth?

A: I was born and brought up in Baghdad, but my ancestors came from the Persian town of Nihawand. My father was a Qawariri, i.e. a glass merchant. My father died, while I was still a boy. My maternal uncle took me in his home and brought me up.

Q: Is it true that you began your studies with Islamic jurisprudence and Islamic traditions on the advice of your uncle, shaykh Sari as-Saqati.

A: Yes! I heard my uncle say: ‘May God make you a traditionalist who is a Sufi and not a Sufi who is a traditionalist’.

Q: I have visited the grave of your uncle. Can you tell us more about your uncle?

A: My uncle was called as-Saqati, as he was a merchant dealing in spices and seasonings. One day, when a fire occurred in the bazaar, he was told that his shop had been burned. He replied: ‘Then I am freed from the care of it”. Afterwards, it was discovered that his shop had not been burned, although all the shops surrounding it had been destroyed. On discovering this, my uncle gave all he possessed to the poor and devoted himself exclusively to Sufism. I have seen no one more bent on worship than my uncle. In the whole 99 years of his life it was unknown for him to lie down, except in his last illness.

Q: How did he teach you?

A: When he wanted me to profit from his teaching he puts questions to me.

Q: Can you give an example?

A: My uncle questioned me one day about love and I answered: ‘Some say that love is identity of feeling, others say it is to prefer another to oneself, while others say something else’. My uncle then pinched the skin of his arm and said: ‘By God, if I said that this skin dried on these bones through loving Him, I’d be telling the truth’.

Q: What is repentance?

A: Repentance is to forget your sin.

Q: Why?

A: If you have been on bad terms with God and afterwards have been raised to being on good terms, to think of your former state is bad.

Q: What is the final goal of the worship of those who have knowledge of God?

A: The conquest of themselves.

Q: Can you give us some advice?

A: You should be satisfied with God under all circumstances and you should not ask anyone but God.

Q: Musical audition (sama’) is an important technique for several Sufi orders. You have formulated a law, i.e. that three things are necessary for listening to Sufi music. Can you mention those three things?

A: Zaman (the right time), makan (the right place) and ikhwan (the right people).

Q: Is the following explanation of these three conditions correct? Here it is:

1. Zaman (the right time): One should participate in the sama’ at a time when one has inward satisfaction and is free from anxiety and cares.
2. Makan (the right place): The place should not be a public thoroughfare. It should be free from noise and disturbances. Moreover it should be clean and having light.
3. Ikhwan (the right people): The people participating in the sama’ should be ‘brethren’ and not strangers. Only people having a community of thoughts and a community of interests should sit together in the sama’. They may be Sufis or dervishes or their followers, who are properly trained.

A: Yes!

Q: What is your definition of Sufism?

A: Sufism is to be with God without attachment to ought else.

Q: This reminds me of what you’ve said about unification.

A: Unification is the separation of the Eternal from that which was originated in time.

Q: Can you tell us something about yourself in this respect?

A: I’ve written a short poem:

I have realized that which is within me.
And my tongue has conversed with You in secret.
And we are united in one respect,
But we are separated in another.
Although awe has hidden You
From the glances of my eye,
Ecstasy has made you near to my innermost parts.

Q: Can you give some characteristics of a friend of God?

A: A friend of God (wali) has no fear, because fear is the expectation either of some future calamity or of the eventual loss of some object of desire, whereas the wali is the son of his time (ibn al-waqt). He has no future that he should fear anything, so he has no fear. He has no hope, since hope is the expectation either of gaining an object of desire or of being relieved from a misfortune and this belongs to the future. Nor does he grieve, because grief arises from the rigours of time, and how should the one feel grief who is in the radiance of satisfaction (rida) and the garden of concord (muwafaqat).

Q: What is the reason as to why the lover begins to weep at the time of meeting the Beloved.

A: Due to extreme fondness there is joy and ecstasy, hence he weeps.

Q: Please be so kind as to define gnosis.

A: To be unmindful of one’s own self after knowing God is called gnosis.

Q: Can you elucidate this further?

A: He alone recognises and He alone is recognised.

Q: You have been reluctant to speak to the people. What happened to change that?

A: As long as my uncle was alive, I was reluctant to speak in public, until one night I dreamt that the messenger of God said to me: ‘O, Junayd, speak to the people, for God has made your words the means of saving a multitude of mankind’. When I awoke the thought occurred to me, that my status was superior to that of my uncle’s, since the messenger of God had commanded me to preach.

At daybreak my uncle sent a disciple to me with the following message: ‘You would not discourse to the people when they urged you to do so and you rejected the intercession of the shaykhs of Baghdad and my personal entreaty. Now that the messenger of God has commanded you, obey his orders’.

Then my former fancy went out of my head. I perceived that my uncle was acquainted with my outward and inward thoughts in all circumstances and that his status was above mine, since he was acquainted with my secret thoughts, whereas I was ignorant of his status. I went to him and begged his forgiveness and asked him how he knew that I had dreamed of the messenger of God. He answered: ‘I dreamed of God, Who told me that He had sent the messenger of God to tell you to preach’.

Q: Anything else you want to say to us?

A: Safar-e mubarak! May your journey be blessed!