The Way of Abu Madyan

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This is the first English translation of works attributed to Abu Madyan, a seminal figure of Sufism in Muslim Spain and North Africa. The Arabic text accompanying the English translation also represents the first scholarly edition of these works in the original language.


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About The Book

This is the first English translation of works attributed to Abu Madyan, a seminal figure of Sufism in Muslim Spain and North Africa. The Arabic text accompanying the English translation also represents the first scholarly edition of these works in the original language. The variety of Abu Madyan’s oeuvre, which includes doctrinal treatises, aphorisms, and poetical works in the ode, qasida, style, provides a unique opportunity for students of Arabic and Sufism, as well as the interested layman, to experience several of the most important genres of religious writing in the Islamic Middle Period. The Arabic texts have been extensively vocalised in order to aid the student. The work as a whole is well-suited for use as a reader for advanced level classes in the Arabic language. In addition, notes have been provided in the English translation.

The Arabic parallel text, set by DecoType, Amsterdam, marks the debut of a new form of calligraphic typesetting in the classical Nashkstyle, combining state-of-the-art computer technology with unique faithfulness to the great calligraphic tradition of the Islamic world.


  • Introduction
  • The World of Maghrebi Sufism in the Twelfth Century AD
  • The Career of Abu Madyan
  • Abu Madyan and Sufism
  • The Texts and their Translations
  • The Supplication for Forgiveness.
  • The Blessed Creed.
  • Basic Principles of the Sufi Path.
  • The Intimacy of the Recluse and Pastime of the Seeker.
  • 5-12. Numerous Qasidas

Appendix I: The Ode in Nun by Ali ibn Isma’il ibn Hirzihim.

Appendix II: A Treatise on Sufism by Abu Ya’za Yalannur ibn Maymun ad-Dukkali.

About The Author

Abu Madyan (1126–1198), also known as Abu Madyan S̲h̲u'ayb, or Abū Madyan, or Sidi Bou-Mediene, or Sidi Abu Madyan Shuayb ibn al-Hussein al-Ansari, was an influential Andalusian mystic and a great Sufi master.

Some even refer to him as the national figure of Maghreb mysticism as he was such a forerunner of Sufism in this geographical area. Devoted to the fervent service of God, he helped introduce looking into oneself and harmonizing internal occurrences with the external observances through asceticism.

Abu Madyan was born in Cantillana, a small town about 35 km away from Seville, in 1126. He came from an obscure family and his parents were poor. As he grew up, he learned the trade of a weaver as it was a popular practice at the time. As a young adult, Madyan moved to Marrakech where he joined a group of Andalusian soldiers and worked as a guard for the city. His insatiable hunger for knowledge, however, piqued his interest in the Qur'an and the study of religion and mysticism. The basic principles and virtues taught at Madyan’s school in Bejaia were repentance (tawba), asceticism (zuhd), paying visits to other masters, and service to experienced masters.

He emphasized futuwa (youth/chivalry) but only when accompanied by the obedience of devotees to their master, the avoidance of disagreements between devotees, justice, constancy, nobility of mind, the denunciation of the unjust, and a feeling of satisfaction with the gifts of God. Aside from attaining Ghawth status and teaching hundreds and hundreds of disciples, Abu Madyan left his mark in more ways than one.

He gained immense popularity because he was relatable, despite his high scholarly status. He had a personality and way of speaking that united people from all walks of life, from the common people to the academics. Even to this day, scholars say that no one of the time surpassed him in religious and intellectual influence. His school produced hundreds of saints and out of the 46 Sufi saints in the Rif region, 15 were his disciples. People still visit his tomb today for pilgrimage from all around the world.

About The Translator

Vincent Cornell is an American scholar of Islam. From 2000 to 2006 he was a Professor of History and Director of the King Fahd Centre for Middle East and Islamic Studies at the University of Arkansas. He was an advisor to the award-winning, PBS-broadcast documentary Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet (2002), produced by Unity Productions Foundation. He left Arkansas in 2006 to become a Professor of History at Emory University, in Atlanta. Sufism and Islamic philosophy are among his specialities.

As a Muslim and self-described "critical traditionalist", Cornell has publicly deplored what he calls the superficiality of modern-day Islamic practices, which he sees as removed from the religion's traditions of deliberation. In his view, context should be taken into account in interpreting the sacred texts of Islam, and that in the globalized world of shifting ideas, Muslims cannot isolate themselves from reflexivity. He is critical of the spread of Wahhabism in the last several decades -- a phenomenon he attributes to a "corporate" form of organized Islam fuelled by petro dollars. Nevertheless, he cautions against a simplistic view that "demonizes" the role played by the Saudi monarchy, which he sees as compelled to promote Wahhabism.





The man who was to become the most influential figure of the developmental period of North African Sufism, Abu Madyan Shu’ayb ibn al-Husayn al-Ansari, who was called by later biographers the ‘Shaykh of Shaykhs, Imam of the Ascetics and the Pious, Lord of the Gnostics, and Exemplar of the Seekers’, and who remains known to posterity as ‘Abu Madyan the Nurturer’ (al-Ghawth), entered the world in inauspicious circumstances. Born around the year 509/1115-16 at the fortress of Cantillana in the region of Seville (Ishbiliya) in Muslim Spain, the future shaykh was orphaned early in life by the unexpected death of his father and suffered cruel treatment and exploitation at the hands of his elder brothers. Fortunately, Abu Madyan’s own account of the often difficult, formative period of his intellectual development is available to the modem student of Sufism via the efforts of a near contemporary, the Moroccan biographer Abu Ya’qub Yusuf ibn Yahya at-Tadili (d. 627/1229-30), who reproduced many of the shaykh’s autobiographical comments in his Kitab al-tashawwuf ila rijal at-tasawwuf, written a short time after the latter’s death:

I was an orphan in al-Andalus. My brothers made me a shepherd for their flocks, but whenever I saw someone praying or reciting [the Qur’an], it pleased me. I would come near to him and found a sadness in my soul because I had not memorized anything from the Qur’an and did not know how to pray. So I resolved to run away in order to learn how to read and pray.

I ran away, but my brother caught up with me, spear in hand, and said, ‘By God, if you do not return I will kill you!’ So I returned and remained for a short time. Then I strengthened my resolve to flee by night. I slipped away at night and took another road [from that which I had originally followed]. My brother [again] caught up with me after sunrise. He drew his sword against me and said, ‘By God, I will kill you and be rid of you!’ Then he raised his sword over me in order to strike me. I parried him with a piece of wood that was in my hand and his sword broke and flew into pieces. When he saw [what had happened] he said to me, ‘Oh my brother, go wherever you wish’.

Upon leaving the region of Seville, the young Abu Madyan traveled south for three or four days, until he reached a hillock near the sea, upon which he found a tent. An old man (shaykh)wearing nothing except what was necessary to cover his nakedness, emerged from the tent and walked toward him. Thinking that the younger man was a captive who had fled from a Christian raiding parry, he asked Abu Madyan about his situation. When told of the young man’s desire to learn the fundamentals of Islam, the shaykh allowed him to remain in his company for a few days.

Then he took a rope, tied a nail to its end, threw it into the sea, and pulled out a fish, which he cooked so that I could eat it. I stayed with him for three days, and whenever I was hungry he would throw that rope and nail into the sea and pull out a fish. Then he would cook it and I would eat it. After [three days had passed] he said to me, ‘I see that you covet honor (amr).Return to the city, for God is not [properly] worshipped except with knowledge.’

Heeding his ascetic companion’s advice, Abu Madyan returned to Seville, from whence he proceeded to Jerez (Sharish) and Algeciras (al-Jazira al-Khadra’). From Algeciras he crossed the Straits of Gibraltar to Tangier (Tanja) and went from there to Ceuta (Sabta), where he labored for a time in the employ of local fishermen. Impatient to gain the knowledge he so earnestly desired, with the little money he had earned Abu Madyan next traveled to Marrakesh (Marrakush), then the rapidly growing capital of the Almoravid state.

Upon arriving in Marrakesh, Abu Madyan was recruited by these mercenaries and drafted into the regiment of Andalusians that was charged with defending the Almoravid capital. The shaykh apparently suffered further exploitation during the period of his military service, for he mentions that other, more experienced soldiers would regularly steal his wages, leaving him only a little with which to provide for his needs. Finally, someone said to him, ‘If you want to devote yourself to religion, go to the city of Fez (Fas).’

So I turned toward [Fez] and attached myself to its mosque-university (the famous Jami’ al-Qarawiyyin), where I learned to make the ablution and the prayer and sat in the study circles of legists and hadith specialists. I retained nothing of their words, however, until I sat at the feet of a shaykh whose words were retained firmly within my heart. I asked whom he was and was told, ‘Abu’l-Hasan [Ali] ibn Hirzihim’. [I went to this shaykh] and told him that I could memorize only what I had learned from him alone and he said to me, ‘These [others] speak with parts of their tongues, but their words are not worthy [even] to call the prayer. Since I seek [only] God with my words, they come from the heart and enter the heart.’

Data sheet
EAN 13 / ISBN9780946621354
AuthorAbu Madyan Shuayb
TranslatorVincent J. Cornell
PublisherIslamic Texts Society
Year Published1996
Height9.2 inches
Width6.1 inches
Length0.7 inches