“The saints of God are His brides and none looks upon brides save those of their family. They are veiled in seclusion in His presence by intimacy. No one sees them, neither in the world nor the next.”
Of the well-known Sufi masters, whose iconic stories are often narrated and quoted in Suhbaat (study circles), is Sultan al-‘Arifeen Bayazid Al-Bastami (q.s). Also known as Abu Yazid Tayfoor al-Bastami in Arabic, he lived in Bastam, Persia, during the 9th century AD. His grandfather was a Zoroastrian who converted to Islam. Besides this, not much is known of his childhood, although some sources cite Karamaat (miracles) occurring before his birth as an indication of his status.
He is an inheritor of infamous Sufi giants – his teacher was Dhu al-Nun Al Misri, who learnt from Jabir Ibn Hayyan, who learnt from Ja’far As-Sadiq (may Allah preserve them all). The Khwajangan (Persian for ‘master’), who were the Sufi Masters of Central Asia during the 10th-16th century, is also traced back to him.
The doctrine of Fana’ (annihilation) is seldom taught without mentioning him. His sayings in the state of divine intoxication (Shatahah) are well-known, amongst them are:
“Glory be to me! Glory be to me!”
“I say that, God is the mirror of myself, for with my tongue He speaks and I have ceased to be myself”
Also found in other sources, Adh-Dhahabi (known Muhaddith and historian, d.1348 AD) quoted Al-Bastami in numerous matters, amongst which were “Praise to Me, for My greatest Glory!” and “There is nothing in this robe I am wearing except Allah.” Adh-Dhahabi’s teacher Ibn Taymiyya explained, “He didn’t see himself as existing any longer, but only saw the existence of Allah, due to his self-denial.”
It was mentioned in Tazkirat al-Awliya that someone once asked Bayazid, “how did you become such a great, learned Sufi?” Bayazid replied, “one night, when I was a child, I left the city to go to the desert. The moon was shining and the world was at peace. Suddenly I had a vision; I saw an illuminated silhouette. The image was so bright that the light of the sun looked pale compared to this apparition. I fell into a state of rapture and a deep feeling of joy came over me. I whispered to myself, ‘Oh Allah, such a beautiful gate, yet empty, such an almighty realm, yet lonesome!” I heard a voice say, “the doorstep is empty, not because no one comes, but no one is admitted to come. This is not the realm of the impure; not many have the honor of admittance.” I thought, from whom in creation could I call upon to intercede for my admittance? And I remembered that the only one to intercede was the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w). I could not call upon anyone but wait for him to give me permission to enter. It was then that I received a message saying, “because of such politeness I will raise your name so you will be remembered as the Sultan al-‘Arifeen, Bayazid.”
Bayazid Al-Bastami (q.s) died in 874 AD. It was said that when he was dying he made a prayer – “oh Allah, I remembered you as if I was an ignorant. Now that I am dying, I am negligent of worshipping You, and I do not know when I will be in Your presence again”. He passed away in a state of Zikr. At the time of his death one of his students, Abu Musa, dreamt that he carried the universe on his shoulders. In a subsequent dream Bayazid Al-Bastami (q.s) appeared to him, telling him that the universe was indeed his body, as how Abu Musa carried his corpse to the grave earlier that day.
Other sayings by him include:
Someone asked, “show me the shortest way to reach God.” Bayazid said, “love those beloved of Allah and make yourself lovable to them so that they love you, because Allah looks into the hearts of whom He loves seventy times a day. Perchance He will love you, too, and He will forgive you your wrongdoings”
When Bayazid was asked, “how old are you?” he said, “four years!” he was asked, “how can that be?” he answered, “I have been veiled (from God) by this world for seventy years, but I have seen Him during the last four years; the period in which one is veiled does not belong to one’s life”
And Allah knows.
[Written as a supplement to ongoing discussion sessions on Farid al-Attar’s Conference of the Birds.]