Sufi Sage of Arabia: Imam Abdallah ibn Alawi al-Haddad

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This unique biography of the saint Imam Abdallah al-Haddad takes readers into the fascinating world and spiritual life of 17th-and early 18th-century Yemen.

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Part of the Fons Vitae Imam al-Haddad Spiritual Masters series, which includes The Book of Assistance, Gifts for the Seeker and The Lives of Man.

This unique biography of the saint Imam Abdallah al-Haddad takes readers into the fascinating world and spiritual life of 17th and early 18th century Yemen. The life of this great spiritual master, whose teachings and personal example continue to influence lives around the world, is examined, from his early attraction to Sufi poetry and visit to the tomb of the prophet Hud - to his rise as a Sufi master and his Hajj journey to Mecca. The biographical facts of al-Haddad's life are interspersed with his spiritual teachings, including his take on the nine stages of certainty, the five investitures of taqwa, the stages of gnosis, and supernatural events. Sufi practitioners, historians, and anthropologists will come to a deeper understanding of this timeless and enduring tradition with this fascinating record of a seminal Sufi master’s life and death.

About Author:

Mohammad Mustafa Badawi was born in Alexandria (Egypt) in 1925 and obtained BA from Alexandria University and Ph.D. from London University.

He is a Fellow of St. Anthony’s College, Oxford, and former Professor of Modern Arabic Literature and Director of Middle Eastern Studies Center at Oxford. He served for many years as editor-in-chief or member of editorial boards of international journals of Middle Eastern studies. He was also a member of the editorial board of the Cambridge History of Arabic Literature (which got translated to Arabic in 2002).

Professor Badawi published some 30 books, editions and translations, and numerous scholarly articles and reviews in Arabic and English. His translations of literary classics into Arabic have been invaluable to Arab scholars, especially the translation of I. A. Richard’s Principles of Literary Criticism, a landmark of literary criticism. Professor Badawi overcame the difficulties of this translation and presented the text in simple, easy-to-understand Arabic. Among his many other contributions are his books An Anthology of Modern Arabic Verse, A Short History of Modern Arabic Literature, A Critical Introduction to Modern Arabic Poetry; Modern Arabic Drama in Egypt; Modern Arabic Literature and the West; Background to Shakespeare; Coleridge: Critic of Shakespeare; Selected Works of Phillip Larken and Shakespeare’s Macbeth and a translation into Arabic of Prophetic Invocations by Imam Al-Haddad. Badawi also translated modern Arabic classics into English, including Sara, by Abbas Mahmud Aqqad, The Thief and the Dogs by Naguib Mahfouz (translated jointly with Trevor Le Gassick), The Sultan’s Dilemma and The Song of Death by Tewfik Al-Hakim and The Saint’s Lamp and Other Stories by Yahia Haqqi. His books in Arabic, on the other hand, include: Dirasat Fi Al- Shir Wa Al-Masrah and Atlal Wa Rasail Min London.

Dr. Muhammad Badawi has spent much of his life translating critical and literary works into Arabic. His impressive efforts have enriched the Arabic library with a number of important books. Foremost among these is I. A. Richard’s “Principles of Literary Criticism”, a landmark in the area of literary criticism. Dr. Badawi overcame the difficulties of this translation and presented a text in simple, easy-to-understand Arabic.

Table of Contents

Contents Foreword by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Preface

Chapter 1 Tarim

The descendants of the Prophet reach South Yemen - spread of the Sunni Shafi’i school - civil strife in Hadramawt - Tarim becomes the capital of the Sayyids - the Haddad clan acquire their name - birth of the Imam.

Chapter 2 The Young Seeker

Memorizing the Quran - Beginnings on the Sufi path - The Imam's childhood companions - the Imam' s masters - the Khirqa or Sufi investiture - influences from the unseen - relationship with Shaykh Abdal-Qadir al-Jilani.

Chapter 3 Stations and States

The dense veils, ailments of the heart - the nine stations of certainty: repentance, fear and hope, patience and gratitude, detachment and reliance, love and contentment.

Chapter 4 Structuring Time

Ghazali on time - invocations and other devotions - teaching sessions - visiting the tomb of Prophet Hud - social activities and family affairs.

Chapter 5 The Sufi

What is Sufism? Who is the Sufi? Union and separation - the five investitures of taqwa - the different aspects of the Sufi.

Chapter 6 The Saint

What is sanctity? The Imam's behavior toward his guests - fluctuation of spiritual states between majesty and beauty - Divine protection of saints - the baraka of the Imam - powerlessness before Divine omnipotence - the lights of sanctity - dealings with the jinn.

Chapter 7 The Gnostic

What is gnosis? Stages of gnosis: from perception of created beings, to that of the Divine acts, attributes, and essence - certainty: knowledge, eye, and truth of certainty - unveiling -contemplation - ascension.

Chapter 8 The Spiritual Master

Who is the spiritual master? Functions of the master - the two methods, that of the Drawn Near and that of the People of the Right Hand - spiritual transmission - protection of the disciple by the master – circumspection - reticence to reveal the secrets of the unseen - attitude toward ibn ‘Arabi and ibn al-Farid - dangers of the path - influence of the Imam in other countries.

Chapter 9 The Scholar

Different kinds of Islamic sciences - breadth of the Imam's knowledge - jurisprudence, which school? - teaching activities - the Pole of Guidance - meticulous following of the sunna - definition of personal teaching role - the Imam's books.

Chapter 10 Doctrinal Position

Following Imam al-Shafi’i in matters of sacred law and Ash’ari in matters of tawhid - the creed of Imam al-Haddad - the question of predestination - points of divergence with the Shi’a.

Chapter 11 Social Influence

Definition of the role of religious and political authorities - the Imam's opinion on the main factors of instability in Muslim society - degeneration of the times - the Imam sets an example for virtuous social behavior.

Chapter 12 The Pole

Who is the Pole? The Circle of Sainthood - attributes of the Pole - recognition by the other saints of the Imam's supremacy.

Chapter 13 The Hajj Journey

Predictions concerning the pilgrimage of the Imam - tyranny of the governor - traveling to the Hajj - Shaykh Husayn’s hospitality - rites of the pilgrimage - karamat in Makka - visit to Madina - return to Makka - spiritual openings.

Chapter 14 Supernatural Events

What is a karama? -The Imam's view on such happenings - examples of supernatural events.

Chapter 15 The Last Days

The Imam's prediction of the time of his own death - the first signs of illness - receiving visitors during his terminal illness- investiture of his disciple - death of the Imam - the funeral - supernatural events following his death.

Chapter 16 The Succession

The Imam's son al-Hasan and grandson Ahmad - Habib Tahir ibn ‘Umar al-Haddad and his descendants - Habib Ahmad Mashhur al-Haddad - successors from other Ba-‘Alawi clans.

Notes Glossary

Foreword by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

Two paths to God exist for the people of this world, the path of salvation and the path of sanctification. For those who seek more than the minimum, who desire more than the average man, who want and yearn for intimate knowledge of their source and ultimate destiny, sanctification allows them that possibility. The Prophets are sanctified souls that are specially prepared by their Lord, not only as a vessel of divine knowledge but also as the means of conveying it to others. For the men and women who take from them and come after them heeding their call, it is through the path of sanctification that the prophetic path is continued in this world for others to walk the path of salvation. Without sanctified souls in the world, the path would eventually be lost, and those seeking salvation destroyed. For those who the saints call, sanctification is a process that continues throughout one’s life on earth and is finalized with a purified soul that is content and ready to return to God in a sanctified state. These souls are then able to act as milestones for those on the path of salvation. They inspire us and direct us to strive on and keep the goal of God’s presence in our hearts. Imam al-Haddad was such a soul. He, through his own teachers, tended to his soul and journeyed on the path of sanctification in order to realize the true alchemy of the hearts, turning the self from a base element, susceptible to corruption, into pure spiritual gold, free of the corrosive elements of this world.

This book, while a biography of one of the greatest saints in Islamic history, is more than that. It is a book of alchemy itself, filled from start to finish with the science of tasawwuf, which is and has always been the heart of the Islamic tradition. It was written by a practitioner of the outward science of psychology and the inward science of the nafs or soul, which, in the path of salvation, works to confine itself to the laws of the sacred order as articulated by the prophets, and, in Islam’s case, by the last and final messenger, Muhammad (peace be upon him), and, in the path of sanctification, works to move through the well-established states and stations of the wayfarer until true knowledge of God is realized.

Dr. Badawi was a student of a direct descendant of Shaykh ‘Abdallah al-Haddad, Habib Ahmad Mashshur al-Haddad, who those of us fortunate enough to have known him personally consider a realized spiritual master and sanctified soul, and none can sanctify save God. Habib Ahmad Mashshur was an antidote for the insanity that accompanies so much religious imbalance in our times. Just as his ancestor, the subject of this book, brought renewal and light to the Islam of his time, today’s masters maintain that same light in a time that might be referred to as ‘the endarkenment’. This book is a compelling testimony to the spiritual power and influence of the sanctified soul on the world. It is, perhaps more importantly for us, a step toward reintroducing the desperately needed path of sanctification. If there was ever a time that saints were needed, it is this time.

- Shaykh Hamza Yusuf


Today, almost three centuries after Imam ‘Abdallah ibn ‘Alawi al-Haddad’s death in 1720, it is not difficult to see why his influence seems to be growing more powerful by the day and his knowledge continues to spread far and wide. Because he was one of the most accomplished scholars of all time, as well as a giant of Muslim spirituality, the task of renewing Islam fell upon him. His work restates traditional Islamic knowledge in the form best suited for his time and succeeding centuries, and has also modified the spiritual methodology of the Sufis, rendering it suitable for the Muslims of the ‘End of Time’. This modified practice he called the ‘Method of the Companions of the Right Hand’ in order to distinguish it from the much stricter ‘Method of the Drawn Near’ of his ancestors and other previous Sufis. In all these endeavors the Imam always represented the strictest orthodox current within Islam.

Imam al-Haddad received two divine gifts that were perceptible even to ordinary Muslims. The first was his ability to accurately read the developments that were to ail the Islamic community, rendering most Muslims incapable of either perusing or understanding the masterpieces of the great Imams of old. The second was the ability to express profound truths in a brief, yet astoundingly clear way. The combination of these gifts has made his writings among the most practically useful sources for the Muslims of our time in terms of a theoretical understanding of traditional Islam in all its wisdom, while remaining an easily followed guide for its application.

Imam al-Haddad is still present in the lives of many Muslims. The anniversary of his death continues to be commemorated each year on all five continents. His awrad are recited daily by thousands of Muslims. His poems, which radiate love, wisdom, and knowledge, are among the most frequently sung verses in spiritual gatherings. His books have been and still are being reprinted almost yearly, formerly in Cairo but now more often in Beirut and Singapore. Many of his works have been translated into a number of languages and are benefiting thousands of people everywhere. His spiritual method is still being implemented by ‘Alawi masters, producing more masters, and thereby continually proving its efficacy in assisting spiritual travelers along the path to fruition.

The relevance of this biography is therefore manifold. Since the Imam’s works are being studied by so many thousands of English speakers, many of them will naturally wish to know more about the author. This inquiry will undoubtedly lead to a stronger emotional attachment to him, and therefore to a greater effulgence of baraka, and thus engender a greater capacity to benefit from his writings. Others, perhaps attracted to Sufism though undecided as to its merits, will find much benefit from studying the life of a spiritual leader of such magnitude. Still others, harboring false ideas about the Sufi path prevalent among superficially educated Muslims of today, may find it interesting to learn about the inward spiritual dimension of so great an exoteric scholar. Over the years, many of the eminent scholars of the Muslim community have been spiritual men, whether they permit their spirituality to shine outwardly or not. As for non-Muslims, I hope they will find here much of the real worth of Islam and its most profound meaning.

No biography can ever do justice to men of this caliber and versatility. One should note that the Imam often kept his inner states hidden. What he allowed to be noticed outwardly were the few glimpses that he felt were necessary to reveal in order to best carry out his various functions. Similarly, the Imam could not entrust much of his inward knowledge to the pages of a book as this might invite misinterpretation. The little we do have is nevertheless of immense value, as shall become clear to the reader.

I was told by a friend in the publishing business that for the Western reader such a description of the Imam’s life might seem to be an idealization, even leaving aside the few supernatural events I mention. There is little that can be done about that since the very concept of sanctity has become incomprehensible to the modern mentality. However, near perfect people do exist, and not just as legends. I have met many men of God whose character and behavior bore witness that such great saints as the Imam are still alive among Muslims today. Many people I know have also personally witnessed such a number of supernatural events as to render them ordinary, everyday occurrences, far from hearsay.

There were three main sources for this biography, the first of which was the Imam’s major Arabic biography, written shortly after his death by one of his closest disciples, Imam Muhammad ibn Sumay, and published in Cairo in 1990 C.E. The second source was the book of Shaykh Ahmad al-Sajjar, who collected all he was able to note of the Imam’s utterances over the course of sixteen years. These were recorded in the work, Tathbit al-Fu’ad, printed in Cairo in 1981 C.E. and again in Singapore in 1999 C.E. The third important source was the two-volume collection of his correspondence, edited by Imam Ahmad ibn Zayn al-Habashi, and printed in Cairo in 1979 C.E. Other sources include information gleaned from the Imam’s descendants (received by oral transmission from their forefathers), his published works, and his Diwan of poetry.

We hope that by making this exceptional scholar and saint better known to the public, we will have contributed to the dissemination of his message to the community, which was always the Imam’s dearest wish.

Success comes from none other than God, may He be praised and thanked for what He has granted.

Data sheet
EAN 13 / ISBN9781887752657
AuthorMostafa al-Badawi
PublisherFons Vitae
Year Published2005
Height0.6 in
Width6.0 in
Length9.0 in